Belinda Howell, pictured with her four children, says she is determined to clear her name. Picture: Supplied
Belinda Howell, pictured with her four children, says she is determined to clear her name. Picture: Supplied

Mum's huge legal bill over Woolies mix-up

A SOUTH Australian mother is facing criminal charges and a $12,000 legal bill after a trip to Woolworths took a shocking turn earlier this year.

Belinda Howell, from Mount Gambier in the state's southeast, popped into her local Woolworths branch on March 22 and decided to withdraw $1100 from the self-service checkout to pay for some home renovations and the wages of her son's carer.

Speaking to the Adelaide Advertiser, the 42-year-old claimed the machine didn't dispense the full amount, so she notified a member of staff who eventually handed over a stack of notes to make up the difference.

Ms Howell, a nurse, told the publication she didn't count the money as she assumed it was the correct amount, and because she had been distracted by a text informing her that her kids had been in a minor car accident.

Then, almost two months later, the police showed up at her home, telling her they were looking into "an incident at Woolworths".

The next day, police showed Ms Howell CCTV footage of her Woolworths trip and told her she had been accused of taking "about $1000" too much.

She was charged with dishonestly deceiving another to benefit herself.

Ms Howell, far right, says she didn’t count the cash at the time. Picture: Supplied
Ms Howell, far right, says she didn’t count the cash at the time. Picture: Supplied

But Ms Howell told the Advertiser she was determined to fight the charges, even though she would likely rack up a $12,000 legal bill in the process.

"I've always prided myself on being honest and I'd never put my job or reputation at risk," she told the publication.

"I understand the lawyer's advice, that it would be faster and more cost-effective to plead guilty, ask for no conviction and get it over with - but my conscience won't let me do that.

"I am exhausted, I put my trust in Woolworths to do the right thing and I feel they've let me down."

Ms Howell said the drama could have been avoided if staff had informed her of the mix-up from the beginning.

"I was (at Woolworths) later that night and the next day, they know me as a regular so I don't know why they didn't just say, 'Our till was down and we think you might have it'," she told the Advertiser.

Belinda Howell, pictured with her four children, is now facing a $12,000 legal bill. Picture: Supplied
Belinda Howell, pictured with her four children, is now facing a $12,000 legal bill. Picture: Supplied

"I would've happily repaid it and I still would - but I haven't been given a chance."

Ms Howell told the publication she was worried the incident could damage her nursing career, and described the situation as a bad dream.

A Woolworths spokeswoman told the Advertiser police were contacted following an internal investigation.

The matter will return to Mt Gambier Magistrates Court for a pre-trial conference later this month.

 

alexis.carey@news.com.au